Thursday, November 01, 2007

Belloc in "Commonweal"

The October 26 issue of Commonweal arrived. It contains a Peter Steinfels article about Belloc.

"A Catholic in the Room - Second Thoughts on Hilaire Belloc" has some pointed things to say about Belloc. What occasioned the piece was Steinfels reading of Belloc's The Crisis of Civilization earlier this year - 70 years after the Fordham University lectures by Belloc that became that book.

Steinfels says he was a fan of Belloc when younger. But he is critical of the book and Belloc's ideas contained in it, and in some of his more insensitive comments concerning Jews and African Americans.

I need to read the piece more closely. And I admit that I have not read Crisis, so I don't know if the picture is accurate. But it is damning - and it gets in some digs at modern "conservatives."

Just to quote a couple of passages (out of order):

"There is little mention of Christian impulses like charity, kindness, humility, and forgiveness. At least in these lecture, Belloc's celebration of Roman Catholicism is far more Roman than Catholic."

"So should Belloc's myopic and skewed views be quietly left to gather dust on the Fordham library bookshelves? That might be the case were it not for the current temptation to shore up a sagging sense of Catholic identity with the bellicose, pseudo-swashbuckling, in-your-face style that was Belloc's signature and that, alas, only looks pitiful and self-deceiving in today's imitators."

"The greatest gap in Belloc's history is the story of political liberty. Early and repeatedly he stresses the movement in Christian Europe from slavery to serfdom to freedom and suggests its religious origins. But of modern civil and political rights - freedom of speech and religion, constitutional accountability, independent judiciaries, democratic suffrage, and so on - he says nothing. In part, he takes them for granted. In part, he considers them illusory. It would take a tale that he could not have told without shining a different, more favorable light on Protestantism, the nineteenth century, and the great absentee from his account, liberalism."

The concluding paragraph is:

"Belloc is a major figure in the remarkable Catholic literary and intellectual revivals of the century past. Those revivals continue to hold out a hope and a model for resurgent Catholic presence in the twenty-first century. But Catholics, including myself, are tempted to look only at the finest moments of these revivals, loyally and nostalgically veiling their less happy aspects. Pragmatically, we need to ask why, in the long run, these revivals petered out. Morally, we need to ask, with unblinking eyes, whether they responded adequately to the brewing crisis of civilization and if not, why not."


Anyone else read the article? If so, observations?


Anonymous said...


What in the world are you doing with a copy of that notorious liberal rag? It's chockablock with heresy and revolution.

I wouldn't be surprised if H.E. Clark has bought every Catholic in his diocese a subscription!

Belloc of Batavia

A Secular Franciscan said...

I'll bet Chesterton read liberal publications.

A Secular Franciscan said...

Moreover, why use this post as an opportunity to get in a gratuitous dig at Bishop Clark?

Anonymous said...


You're right. Chesterton probably did read liberal publications, but I'll wager he didn't have publications which make it a practice of questioning the Catholic Faith sent regularly to his house.

As for my gratuitous dig at Bishop Clark, since he's been gratuitously chipping away at the Church in his diocese for the last twenty-nine years, I figured he wouldn't mind.

Alan Capasso said...

It seems that Peter Steinfels is trying to convict Belloc on two levels. One, for things He did not talk about: if Belloc did not mention it he must be against it. And the other is that Belloc does not fit Steinfels idea of how a Catholic should behave. What does “more Roman than Catholic” mean? Like with most on the left, Steinfels thinks Catholics should just stick to their prayers and be quiet.

John Hetman said...

"Like with most on the left, Steinfels thinks Catholics should just stick to their prayers and be quiet."

Well not quite "just."

I would add that Steinfels, el al, assume that Catholics should follow the lead of the Democratic Party as well as contribute to such soviet models of charity as the Campaign for Human Development.